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Women In The Workplace

To deliver on the immense opportunity of inclusive, motivated and high-performance employees, organisations need to change the parameters for success.

13/04/2017 03:53 SAST | Updated 13/04/2017 03:53 SAST
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She's just not that into you!

It's been many years since gender diversity was first introduced to the corporate landscape as a business imperative. Yet, at the mention of any new company or industry-wide diversity initiative, an audible sigh emanates from whichever audience is present. Surely this would suggest that the drum has been beaten and that the required changes have been made? Why then, considering all the initiatives implemented across businesses, have so few true inroads been made in effectively addressing the inclusion of woman as senior leaders of the organisations that employ them?

The latest Grant Thornton Women in business Report, March 2017, reveals that globally, the percentage of women in senior management teams has risen just one percentage point in 2017 to 25 percent. However, the number of businesses with no women at all in senior leadership has also risen by 1 percent to 34 percent in the last year. More tellingly, the needle has only moved 6 percent in 13 years since the report was first released.

Women's business?

What are the barriers to entry that are limiting women's access to senior leadership? Is it simply our conservative approach to the traditional role of a women's place in society? Are we so conditioned to the primordial approach of hunter – gatherer that we have created stereotypes that are entrenched in the DNA of our organisations? Whilst there is some evidence to support this, the reality is much more complex.

The adage of women having the opportunity to now be wives, mothers, sisters, aunts, friends, colleagues – multiskilling and nurturing – has the modern women striving endlessly to be all things to all people all the time. Given the demands of organisations to succeed, where there is no recognition of individual needs and changing working environment, the work life balance model is unobtainable. Given this, rather than create yet another initiative to support women's endeavours to 'have it all', we should consider whether organisations are asking the right questions and focussing on the right issues that will not only move the needle in the right direction, but also deliver the benefit of an ultra-motivated female workforce.

Diversity is a family issue

Men are stereotyped into roles that have them as strong, objective, risk takers who can dispassionately assess the merits of opportunities and are natural bread winners. Those men who choose to be the househusband often find themselves the butt of fraternal joking, being accused of passing 'the trousers' to their wives. But is this in fact true? Do they lose the gender war at home and are their children disadvantaged by having their dad rather than their mother attend to their everyday needs? As a society, we need to think more carefully about what message we are sending to our children, our daughters by the behaviour we model at home. Currently, it appears that girls learn that you can have it all, but only until you have children. Then you must choose between a career or a family - because to have a career and succeed you need to give everything that you are to your job, all the time.

This is at odds with what most modern employers are learning: quality over quantity succeeds every time. Working smarter not harder is the modern-day mantra. Yet, with the investment and development in technology today, making us more mobile and accessible 24/7, why is there still such a strong pull towards the 8-5 office based working conditions? This idea that if we can't measure your office hours, we can't measure your value to the business is not just outdated, it is unconstructive and demotivating to our top performers.

Working for success

Where does all this confusion leave us? Certainly, not at the beginning. Even the most ardent feminist must acknowledge that the needle is moving, but perhaps the people moving it are focusing on the wrong things? We tell women that they 'can have it all', but for many, experience shows that rather than an opportunity for equality, the 'all' is a never-ending life sentence of endless expectation and pressure. Women are expected to fulfil existing traditional roles at home as they did before working and then 'man-up' in the boardroom too by working longer, harder and more than their male colleagues to continuously prove that they take their jobs 'seriously'.

To deliver on the immense opportunity of inclusive, motivated and high-performance employees, organisations need to change the parameters for success. Instead of just measuring success as the number of women in board rooms, we need to steer our focus to our human resources practices, look at our policies, working conditions, culture and above all recognition that re-evaluates our societal influences and family values.

That men don't cry and women don't read maps should be the book gathering dust on the shelves because we have finally recognised the true value of gender inclusion. The ideal scenario? Seeing our daughters smash the glass ceiling because they finally have the much-needed support they need to be all things to all the people who impact their worlds (including employers) - and still achieve a work life balance.